“Eat up, there’s a good girl. You don’t want to go to heaven just yet, do you – do you?” The voice was soft, distinctly male, and educated. It gently coaxed as though the speaker was talking to a child. “There’s a good girl.”
A grubby hand poked through the wooden slats and clawed at the cheese sandwich laying on the dirty concrete floor. An engagement ring sparkled on one finger at the end of which a broken nail had blackened.
At one end of the workshop, a small window with a broken pane of glass glowed orange as a shaft of late afternoon sunshine streamed down onto the floor, illuminating one side of a workbench and an old green wicker chair. Beneath the worktop an oxyacetylene torch with pipes was curled up next to two tanks of gas that stood in a mobile cart the other end of the bench. On the work area, a jumble of carpentry tools was scattered about. A large square of green felt had been laid out neatly at the front. Arranged with precision were five chisels and a small hacksaw. Next to them was a claw hammer and a small leather cigar box with removable lid.
Two pigeons, strutting along one of the iron girders up in the roof space, fluttered with a sudden frenzy and flew into the darkness at the far end of the building. A cloud of dust swirled down through the shaft of light, leaving a residue of floating particles to follow until they had all but disappeared.
A stifled sob came from inside the crate followed by the sound of something metallic being dragged.
“Now then, dearie, you remember what happens if you make a noise, don’t you? You must keep quiet and soon you will be going home. You’ll like that, won’t you – won’t you?”
The chair Daren Fletcher was sitting on creaked as he stood. Small and slightly overweight, his long black hair was swept straight back from around a shiny bald crown and down over his shoulders. He turned to face the tall metal sliding door that separated him from the world he despised. His small cornflower blue eyes blinked at the bright light from the window; a light that played an orange tint over a pale face and long thin red scar curving from under the left eye to his top lip.
He pulled a tissue from the pocket of his blue track suit and sneezed several times, pinching the tissue around his small pointed nose with four well manicured fingers. A fleshy stub protruded where his thumb should have been.
“It’ll be dark soon, dearie,” he murmured. “I can go out then and get to know your daddy.” He looked down at the crate. “I’m going to send him a present, so he knows daddy’s little girl is safe and snug with me.”
He smiled. His fingers lightly touched the row of chisels before he gripped the handle of the hammer without picking it up. From the shelf above the work area, he reached for a half empty bottle of carbonated water and a small blister strip of pills which was marked Rohypnol. Two pills, stamped with the figure 2 were removed and dropped into the bottle which he then shook.
The bottle was pushed through the slats.
“There you are, dearie. Drink that all up. I don’t want daddy thinking I starved you, do I – do I?”
The grubby hand appeared again and snatched at the bottle but missed as Fletcher teased her and pulled it back. Her hand extended as far as her shoulder would allow before he gave her the bottle and started to sing childishly.
“Twinkle, twinkle, little star
How I wonder what you are
Up above the world so high
Like a diamond in the sky
Twinkle, twinkle, little star
How I wonder what you are
He sat down on the chair and crossed his legs. A movement came from the crate.
“Shut up, you bitch!” He kicked the crate.
With an index finger conducting, he continued.
With the blaze of glory dead
He has nothing, book’s in shreds
Then I’ll show his angel’s plight
She’ll be hidden out of sight
Twinkle, twinkle, little star
You won’t find her, near or far
Inside the wooden crate, with unkempt long blonde hair and dressed in a filthy red skirt and white blouse, Rebbeca Shaw had succumbed to the sedative’s effect. Her chest rose and fell as she fell into a deep sleep.
Fletcher sat with eyes fixed on the pane of glass above the door until the rays of sunshine began to fade, giving way to a darkening blue sky that within two hours would turn black. He leaned forward and picking up a piece of thin wood, poked Rebbeca’s leg. There was no response.
“Time,” he said, rising. “You won’t feel anything, dearie, I promise. I didn’t, did I – did I?”
Fletcher took a small key from his trouser pocket and bent over a padlock that secured a gate at one end of the crate. After removing the lock, he kneeled down and grabbed one of Rebbeca’s arms. Pulling her out, he dragged her across the floor and lifted her unsteadily onto the wicker chair. He looked along the shelf until he saw a roll of ducktape. A few minutes later, she was taped to the chair, and her left hand laid flat, palm down, on the bench.
“Your daddy will be along to collect you soon. It’s a shame I won’t be here to meet him. I have to be back home before midnight or my mummy will wonder where I am.”
He picked up a one-inch chisel and the claw hammer. With care, the chisel was rested on flesh just above the knuckle joint of the finger wearing the engagement ring.
“All be over in a minute, dearie. Just hold yourself together.” He raised the chisel away from the finger as his face creased into a wicked grin. “Just hold yourself together – just hold yourself together. That is so funny, dearie – so funny.”
The hammer hit the top of the chisel with force as soon as the blade touched the slender finger again. Rebbeca’s hand slid from the worktop and into her lap. Fletcher placed the severed finger in a small polythene bag and then into the cigar case. The lid of a plastic first aid box was snapped open, and from that, he took a fresh roll of bandage.
Fletcher stared at a small wind-up clock at the back of the bench. It would take him ten minutes to walk to the nearest police station and another ten to get back. He could not afford to stop. He untied Rebbeca from the wicker chair and dragged her back to the crate. After replacing the padlock, he spent five minutes sealing the cigar holder and placing it inside an addressed jiffy envelope. With care, he deliberately left fingerprints on the cigar case and the jiffy bag.
The sun had all but disappeared behind the distant city skyline and the long shadows cast across the expanse of concrete around the industrial trading park outside were merging into one cloak of blackness. Fletcher coiled a woolen scarf around the lower half of his face and flicked the ends over his shoulder. A cloth cap covered his head, and as he left the warehouse, he pulled on a long woolen coat and a pair of leather gloves.
There was a dampness in the still autumn air that chilled Fletcher to the bone. He hurried to a section of the wire fencing that surrounded the park and squeezed through a gap and down a grass bank to the cycle path. A few minutes later, he entered Glinbourne Green Police Station. The clock above the duty sergeant's desk showed 3.50 p.m. Fletcher stepped smartly across the reception area and placed the large jiffy bag on the counter.
“Urgent package for DI Little.”
McGuire rose from his chair and picked up the post ledger. “Just a moment,” he called as Fletcher turned to leave. “I want your details and signature. Can’t have just anyone dropping stuff off without us knowing who they are.” He pointed a pen at the jiffy bag. “There could be anything in there.”
Fletcher pushed the scarf up over the end of his nose and took the offered pen. After signing the delivery entry, he left quickly, looking up at the clock above the counter. 3.55 p.m.
Outside, he pushed through some groups of early evening Christmas shoppers along Glinbourne pedestrian precinct but took little notice of what was going on around him as he passed a cinema showing a Harry Potter film.
He turned down a side street and then into a dark alley by the side of Marks and Spencer and stopped. He faced the wall of Durrell & Sons, a men's tailors that proudly boasted ‘established since 1928.’
“I’ll be with you in a minute, mummy. I promise I will – I will. Don’t be cross.”
From his waistcoat pocket came a faint harmonious two-tone alarm. He pulled his pocket watch out and flipped the dial cover open. The watch showed 4.00 p.m.
A scrap of newspaper showing pictures of Theresa May outside Number Ten blew up into the air on a gust of wind. It landed back in the same place. Part of the headline read, ‘Never has so mu…’ Underneath was a picture of Winston Churchill. A date was printed in the top left-hand corner. 20 August 1940.